Injured Veteran Uses Own Experience to Inspire Others With Traumatic Brain Injuries
by Donna Miles
Left, Retired Army Pfc. Chris Lynch uses his own experience with traumatic brain injury to help inspire others. The former 82nd Airborne Division Soldier is pursuing his education, runs marathons and competed in the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in April. Photo by Donna Miles
WASHINGTON – A former 82nd Airborne Division Soldier who has been living with traumatic brain injury for the past seven years is reaching out to recently wounded veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to help them learn to live with the disease.
Pfc. Chris Lynch was attending a French commando school in July 2000 when he fell 26 feet and landed directly on his head. He went into a coma for 45 days before arriving at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here.
Pfc. Lynch was later diagnosed with traumatic brain injury or TBI – an affliction that's become a signature injury of the war on terror.
Roadside bombs, mortars and other explosives are taking their toll on deployed troops' brains as well as their bodies. Even with Kevlar helmets, there's a critical organ this protective gear simply doesn't adequately protect: the gelatin-like material that can shift violently inside the skull when confronted by explosions, sudden jolts or shock waves from blasts…
"When they explode, your skull gets pounded against your Kevlar (helmet)," Pfc. Lynch said. "Your brain gets tossed around like an egg in a bucket of water."
TBI symptoms run the gamut, from slower reaction times to severe emotional and cognitive problems.
Pfc. Lynch remembers his own experience. When he awoke from his coma, he had a breathing tube, had lost about a third of his body weight and was paralyzed on his left side. Even more shocking, he was unable to speak, walk, eat or dress without assistance.
After months of intensive therapy, both at Walter Reed and at the James A. Haley Veterans Administration Hospital in Tampa, Fla., Pfc. Lynch slowly relearned how to walk, talk and do other everyday tasks he once took for granted.
"The 82nd gave me the mentality to drive on," he said. "There are a lot of speed bumps in life. TBI is just a bigger one."
Now back at his hometown of Pace, Fla., and medically retired from the Army, Pfc. Lynch said he understands the trauma troops go through when they're diagnosed with TBI. He said he hopes his own experience helps them recognize that there's life after a TBI diagnosis and to inspire them to press on.
"It's definitely eye opening," Pfc. Lynch said of his own injury. "But it makes you more empathetic and gives you a love for life."
Seven years after his injury, Pfc. Lynch lives in his parents' home and continues to keep a "drive on" mentality as he rebuilds his life. He walks 5 to 10 miles a day along the beach in Pensacola, Fla., ran eight marathons last year, and attended the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass, Colo., in April.
Meanwhile, he just graduated from Pensacola Junior College, where he studied recreational technology, and plans to continue his studies so he can someday teach physical education to underprivileged and handicapped children.
But as he looks to his future, Pfc. Lynch said his main focus is on helping other troops suffering from traumatic brain injuries. He travels extensively to increase awareness about TBI and launched a Web site that details his own recovery.
"I've learned a lot about interpersonal communications and become a public speaker," he said. "The bottom line is, I try to inspire other people."
Pfc. Lynch still goes through his own personal hard times. He gets frustrated when people who hear his still-distorted speech think he's drunk.
And he still misses his fellow 307th Engineer Battalion Soldiers and pines for the military career he had to leave behind.
"I miss it," he said. "I miss it every day."
(Donna Miles writes for the American Forces Press Service.)
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